‘Little House on the Prairie’: Here’s How Many Oscar-Winning Actors Appeared on the Show

by Suzanne Halliburton
Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images)

Little House on the Prairie featured an incredible cast. We already knew that. But did you know the show also sported a number of Oscar winners?

Impress your friends with this knowledge. The show had eight actors who won Academy Awards dating from 1956 to 2009. It wasn’t all just Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert.

We’ll give you a rundown.

Little House On The Prairie Included Actors Who Won Oscars for Three Films in the 50s

Ernest Borgnine won Best Actor in 1956 for the romantic comedy/drama Marty. It’s an unlikely love story with Borgnine starring as Marty, a 34-year-old butcher who lives with his mother and thinks he’ll never find love. He does. On Little House on the Prairie, Borgnine played a guardian angel.

He was there to help Laura come to grips with her guilt over the death of her newborn brother, Charles. Borgnine was in a two-episode arc in season one.

Red Buttons won an Oscar for Sayonara in 1957. The movie starred Marlon Brando as an Air Force pilot. Buttons won best supporting actor honors as Brando’s crew chief. Buttons, in the movie, fell in love with a Japanese woman, but the military wouldn’t approve their marriage.

On Little House on the Prairie, Buttons portrayed William O’Hara, a traveling trickster/circus man. The episode was broadcast in February 1975.

Burl Ives, who enchanted millions of kids as the snowman narrator of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, won an Oscar in 1959. He played Rufus Hannassey in the western The Big Country.

Ives appeared in Little House on the Prairie in 1976. In the episode, there’s a gun accident and Charles is shot in the gut. Laura, the only one with her dad, tries to find help. Instead, she discovers Sam Shelby, a blind man played by Ives.

Patricia Neal Won An Oscar and Was First Olivia Walton

Patricia Neal played a housekeeper in Hud. That earned her Best Actress in 1964. She also was the original Olivia Walton in The Homecoming: A Christmas Story. That TV movie served as a pilot for The Waltons.

Four years after the Waltons movie, Neal guest-starred on Little House on the Prairie as a mother. But her story was a sad one. She played a dying widow who was in search of a family for her three children.

In a role she originated on Broadway, Eileen Heckart won the best supporting actress Oscar for playing an overprotective mother of a blind son in Butterflies Are Free. That movie was in 1972.  Seven years later, Heckart was on Little House on the Prairie playing Amanda Cooper, a character described as a “spirited spinster.”

Louis Gossett, Jr. won both an Oscar and an Emmy. He took home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the 1983 movie An Officer And A Gentleman. He won an Emmy for his portrayal of Fiddler in the mega mini-series, Roots. In 1976, Gossett played Henry Hill on a two-part Long Road Home episode on Little House.

Ralph Bellamy won an honorary Oscar in 1987 for “for his unique artistry and his distinguished service to the profession of acting” Four years before, he played Dr. Marvin Haynes in the Little House episode Marvin’s Garden. This also was the same year he appeared as Randolph Duke in the Eddie Murphy holiday comedy Trading Places.

Sean Penn Was An Extra When He Was 13

And we saved the two-time Oscar winner for last. Sean Penn won Best Actor for Mystic River in 2004 and Milk in 2009. Maybe it wouldn’t have been possible without his first-ever screen appearance on Little House on the Prairie.

Penn appeared as an uncredited extra on the episode “The Voice of Tinker Jones” in 1974. Leo Penn, Sean’s dad, directed the episode. Sean’s mother, Eileen, also appeared.